The Montessori methodology transcends curriculum requirements, grade levels, school walls, and government mandates. My mother achieved her Montessori certification so she could afford to send all four of her children to Bellevue Montessori. I was just 18 months old when my Montessori journey began.
Since then, I have lived near the Marche Region of Italy, the birthplace of Dr. Maria Montessori. I have seen the Montessori philosophy work in private and public schools, at home and abroad, regardless of socio-economic status. One can experience when Montessori principals are being flawlessly executed, because the environment fosters independence and creativity in a real world setting. There is joyful noise that can only be found in a place where kids feel safe enough to learn things that truly matter to them.
Most recently, our children were invited to attend Wā Ora Montessori, near Wellington, as American ambassadors. It was week long cultural exchange in the only Montessori school in New Zealand that provides a program for students through age 18.
I knew the moment we arrived that the experience was going to impact our children far beyond the scheduled week. We were first greeted by an amazing staff, and as we walked each child to their respective classrooms, the energy was palatable.
Kids were getting organized, comfortable, and right down to business. The teachers prepared the environment in a way that enables kids to do things for themselves at a pace that is set by the learner.
As an observer, it was pure magic. The materials were self-correcting, so instead of students waiting for the teacher to judge if something was right or wrong, teachers were called in by students only when they needed guidance.
The real testament to the environment was that our children took off their backpacks, kicked off their shoes, found meaningful projects, and jumped right in. Without even a good bye glance over their shoulders, we walked out the door. It amazes me to think my children (who have not been in a formal educational setting for over a year), felt so comfortable at a new school, in a foreign country.
As the week progressed and friendships formed, the experience became even richer. From baking Incan bread with a new friend, counting to 20 in Māori, to community service at the retirement home, there was real life happening both within and beyond the school walls.
Because the classes are multi-age and the adults meet each child where they are individually, each classroom is a tight community. These class communities only get stronger when they join with other classes and community organizations.
- Kids were cooking, eating, sweeping, cleaning, gardening, and managing businesses.
- Kids were computing, publishing, promoting, and composing.
- Kids were supporting, sharing, contemplating, and celebrating.
- Kids were playing, running, falling, and getting back up.
- Kids were comfortable, joyful, present, and organized.
- Kids were engaged, excited, compassionate, and aware.
- Kids were expected, accountable, welcome, and loved.
Montessori is not a trend. It is a place where the “why” comes first because that is what makes learning matter. When my children walked out of the building each day as relaxed and happy as they entered, I knew we had found greatness.
As Maria Montessori said, “Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child open himself up to life.” It is a powerful question, “How are our schools facilitating our children’s ability to open themselves up to life?”
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